Count It All Joy

June 9, 2024 in Bible - NT - James, Meditations, Trials

James 1:2 (NKJV) 

2My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials… 

Few exhortations regarding trials are more quoted and more difficult to obey than the one we find here in James’ letter. He exhorts us to count it all joy when we fall into various trials. We are to count itreckon it, consider it to be, reorient our attitude concerning it. We are to count it all joy – not just joy, not just partial joy, not just intermittent joy, but all joy. We are to count it all joy when you fall – encounter, face, experience in God’s providence. We are to count it all joy when we fall into various trials – trials of all shapes and sizes, trials of health, of family, of work, of poverty, of war. Count it all joy when you fall into various trials.

So why should we count it all joy? It is so much easier to count it all inconvenience or tragedy or frustration or discouragement or anger. Thus, when we fall into trials, we must remind ourselves why we should count it all joy. What are our grounds, reasons, for joy? Consider a few:

  • I should count it all joy because God is sovereign. Though these trials may have caught me off guard, they have not caught Him off-guard. “I am the Lord, and there is no other; I form the light and create darkness, I make peace and create calamity; I, the Lord, do all these things” (Is 45:6-7). 
  • I should count it all joy because God is all-powerful. Though I may be at a loss to understand or control the circumstances of this trial, yet God’s hand is not shortened. He can save. So I can call on Him. “Behold, the Lord’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save; nor His ear heavy, that it cannot hear” (Is 59:1). 
  • I should count it all joy because the Sovereign, Almighty God is also my loving Father. Though my sin separates me from God, Jesus has died and risen again to forgive my sin and reconcile me to God. Therefore, I need not fear. “Do not fear, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom” (Lk 12:32).
  • I should count it all joy because my loving Father has ordained this trial for my good. “All things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose” (Rom 8:28).
  • I should count it all joy because my loving Father is using this trial to teach me patience. This is the reason James gives, “knowing that the testing of our faith produces patience” (Jas 1:3).
  • I should count it all joy because my loving Father and His Son are with me in my trial. “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word, and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him” (Jn 14:23). The Father and Son dwell with us by the Spirit.
  • I should count it all joy because Jesus, the Son of God, suffered in order to carry my sorrows and griefs. He will support me in my hour of trial. “Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows” (Is 53:4). 
  • I should count it all joy because Jesus, as my fellow sufferer, sympathizes with me in my trial and I can have confidence that He will hear my prayers. “For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb 4:15-16).
  • I should count it all joy because Jesus, as my fellow sufferer, makes intercession for me and is able to save me from these trials. “Therefore He is also able to save to the uttermost those who come to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them” (Heb 7:25).
  • I should count it all joy because the Spirit too helps me in my weakness to cry out to God for deliverance. “Likewise, the Spirit also helps us in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered” (Rom 8:26).
  • I should count it all joy because Jesus bore my sin on the cross in order to purchase my peace. “The chastisement for our peace was upon Him” (Is 53:5). Trials are the opposite of peace – they are a visitation of chaos, turmoil, disruption. Therefore, my trials shall pass. Peace shall come. I have hope. “Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh” (Lk 6:21).
  • I should count it all joy because this momentary, temporary trial is producing for me an eternal, a perpetual weight of glory. “For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory” (2 Cor 4:17).

So are you counting it all joy when you fall into various trials? If you are like me, then you will have to review this list often and add to it in order to count it all joy. And so, reminded that there are grounds for joy even when we fall into various trials, and no doubt reminded that we often give way to frustration, complaint, anger, discouragement, or despondency, let us confess that we have often lost sight of our grounds for joy and given way to discouragement and despondency. And as you are able, let us kneel as we confess our sins to the Lord.

The Origins of War

February 27, 2022 in Bible - NT - James, Meditations, Sin

James 4:1-3 (NKJV)

1 Where do wars and fights come from among you? Do they not come from your desires for pleasure that war in your members? 2 You lust and do not have. You murder and covet and cannot obtain. You fight and war. Yet you do not have because you do not ask. 3 You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures.

This week many of us have watched with dismay as Russian President Putin ordered his troops to invade Ukraine. Many of our contemporaries believed that we were beyond such barbaric times; that our new global economy would prevent a full-scale national war. But such a belief reveals that many of us have not reckoned with the depth of human corruption. 

What is the basic problem in the world? Is it poverty, ignorance, religion, economic inequality? Where do wars and fights come from? The question James poses is a question that the modern world continues to ask. Unfortunately, the answers given are rarely helpful, usually only partial truths. Consequently, our solutions are impotent. We put a band-aid on the visible wound but fail to stop the bleeding within.

So where do wars and fights come from? James tells us plainly: they come from covetousness, envy, desiring the good things that God has given to others. “Wrath is cruel,” Solomon informs us, “and anger is a torrent, but who can stand before jealousy?” (Pr 27:4) How does James describe this for us?

First, he says, “we lust and do not have.” We look around at all the good things God has given our neighbor and, rather than rejoice for them, we lust for ourselves. Whether what we desire is their Tonka truck, their mp3 player, their nicely proportioned body, their spouse, their car, or their mansion on the lake– we hunger for what they’ve got. And this hunger, this lustful desire, is the source of wars and conflicts – on a personal level and on a national level.

How so? James tells us. “You murder and covet and cannot obtain.” In other words, having eyed your neighbor’s car, his intelligence, or his new sneakers and having desired them for yourself, you proceed to wish ill for your neighbor. “Oh, if only he would die and leave his money to me.” “If only his wife would die, and I’d come comfort him and he’d marry me.” 

And then, having wished this evil upon our neighbor, it is simply a small leap to perpetrating the evil. Imagine you’re envious of a new game that your sibling received but won’t play with you. “Oh, I’m sorry brother, I didn’t realize that was your game I was stepping on.” Imagine you want that promotion at work but Jenkins stands in your way. Why not just lie to remove him? “Boss, I thought I should let you know, that I’ve observed Jenkins playing games on his computer during work hours.” Imagine you’re Putin longing for the glory days of the Soviet Empire; why not just lie to justify your ambition? “The Ukrainian people are mistreating the Russian speakers within their borders, and so now I am justified in invading their country like I have wanted to do all along.”

What is the solution to this type of lustful desire? It is to turn one’s eyes to God and trust Him to supply all one needs. “You do not have,” James declares, “because you do not ask.” But beware. Why are you asking? Are you asking for the glory of God and the good of His Kingdom, or are you asking simply to satisfy your lusts? Because if the latter James declares, “You ask and do not receive because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures.”

Reminded that covetousness is a sin and that it is the source of quarrels and conflicts in marriage, in the home, in the workplace, in the church, and in the world, let us kneel and confess that we have coveted our neighbors’ goods. We will have a time of silent confession followed by the corporate confession found in your bulletin.

Why We Need the Psalms

October 14, 2018 in Bible - NT - James, Dispensationalism, Liturgy, Meditations, Old Testament, Singing Psalms, Thankfulness, Worship

James 5:13 (NKJV)
13
Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing psalms.

What are we to do when facing the ups and downs of life? When we are suffering and weighed down, heavy of spirit – what are we to do? On the other hand, when cheerful, full of joy and wonder at God’s work in our own lives or in the world – what are we to do? Today James tells us. “Is anyone among you suffering – feeling poorly, enduring trouble? Let him (an imperative, a command – this isn’t simply good advice) Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him (again, an imperative, a command), Let him sing psalms.”

James tells us that when we are suffering we are to pray; we are to take our troubles straight to the Lord. Cry out to God; He wants to hear; He wants to be the one to whom we direct our cries. Likewise, when we are cheerful, we are to sing psalms. Why? Because singing enables us to funnel the joy that we are experiencing in the right direction – in praise and thankfulness to our Creator and Redeemer.

But as we think about the psalms, remember that many of them express grief and longing for God, not cheer – so how do they fit with James’ theme of cheerfulness? It is here that we must return to James’ command to pray when sorrowful. For what are many of the psalms but model prayers of sorrow, embodying what desperate cries to God look like? Singing them enables us to funnel our sorrow in the right direction – in prayer and petition to our Creator and Redeemer.

In other words, James’ exhortation in this verse directs us to the psalter in times of both sorrow and cheerfulness. Notice then the priority that James places upon the psalter. What are we to do when suffering? We are to pray. And where do we find examples, patterns of prayers offered up in the midst of suffering? In the psalter. What are we to do when joyful? We are to sing psalms. And where do we find these psalms of praise? In the psalter.

So here’s the question for you – do you know your psalter well enough to obey James’ exhortations? How well do you know your psalms? Do the psalms, when you are burdened and weighed down, come to your mind and fill your soul with cries to God? Do the psalms, when you are cheerful and lifted up, come to your mind and fill your home with praise and thanksgiving?

I dare say that if you are like me there is some lack in this regard. Not many of us grew up singing the psalms; hence, the psalms are often strange and foreign to us. Some of the tunes that we have in our English psalters are hard to learn. Some of the words of the psalms are difficult to understand or even believe. But the problem is not with the psalter but with us. We need to grow in our ability to sing and to understand the psalms.

Consequently, one of the things we are committed to do as a congregation is to become more skilled in our ability to sing the psalms and more knowledgeable of their content. To facilitate that, we prioritize the psalms in our worship and hold regular psalm sings in which we can learn to sing more skillfully. We do these things so that the entire congregation, not just a few individuals, can fulfill James’ exhortations – is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing psalms.

Reminded that in our suffering and in our joy God has given us the psalms to channel our prayers and praises, let us confess that the American church has largely ignored the psalms of late, believing that we no longer need them; and let us confess that even in our attempt to recover them, we too have neglected to hold them close to our hearts. We will have a time of silent confession followed by the corporate confession found in your bulletin. As you are able, let us kneel together as we confess.

Save a Soul from Death

June 24, 2018 in Bible - NT - James, Covenantal Living, Discipline, Ecclesiology, Meditations, Sacraments

James 5:19–20 (NKJV)
19 Brethren, if anyone among you wanders from the truth, and someone turns him back, 20 let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save a soul from death and cover a multitude of sins.

One of our duties as a congregation is to come alongside one another and assist one another to walk faithfully with the Lord. Our enemies – the world, the flesh, and the devil – are relentless in their attacks upon our faith and faithfulness to the Lord. Consequently, the Lord has given us brothers and sisters to assist us in the fight. It is this dynamic that James addresses in our text. Let us note a few things.

First, notice that James views it as possible that those who profess faith in Christ be tempted to apostatize. Brethren, if anyone among you wanders from the truth – each of us has names that we can attach to James’ warning. If we have walked long in the faith, we have known those who wander from the truth and fall into error and sin.

Second, James views it as possible that those who are so tempted can be reclaimed. Brethren, if anyone among you wanders from the truth, and someone turns him back… It is possible, by the grace of God, to be God’s means of bringing an erring brother back to the truth. It is possible, in James’ words, to turn a sinner from the error of his ways.

Finally, James encourages us to reclaim those who have wandered for, in doing so, we save the erring brother from certain destruction. Brethren, if anyone among you wanders from the truth, and someone turns him back, let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save a soul from death and cover a multitude of sins. This is the great privilege of helping those who are wandering astray.

Today the elders perform the sober duty of announcing to you that our beloved sister and daughter, —-, is wandering from the truth…. Consequently, we are publicly suspending her from fellowship in the Supper and calling upon you, her brothers and sisters in the Lord, to come alongside her and attempt to rescue her from the error of her ways. She knows the right thing to do and often desires to do it but has thus far lacked the strength of purpose to carry out what is good and right. So what can you do?

First, regardless of whether you personally know —-, please pray for her and for those who do know her, especially her family, that —- would be disposed to listen to them, to do what is right, and to return to the truth with a whole heart. Pray that she wouldn’t flee from the truth but embrace it with a whole heart.

Second, if you know —-, please endeavor to reach out to her. Consider writing her a letter. Remind her of your love for her, of the Lord’s love for her, and urge her to return to the truth. The Lord is gracious and longsuffering and does not desire the death of a sinner but that one repent and return to Him. So this is what we desire for —-. Don’t treat her self-righteously; don’t lecture her in haughtiness or pride; appeal to her as a beloved sister.

And so, having been notified of —- sin, we are reminded of how susceptible we all are to the temptations of the world, the flesh, and the devil. So let us confess our own need of God’s forgiving grace and His merciful intervention to keep us in the truth. And as we confess, and as you are able, let us kneel together. We will have a time of silent confession followed by the corporate confession found in your bulletin.

Don’t Waste Your Joy

December 19, 2016 in Bible - NT - James, Bible - OT - Psalms, John Calvin, Meditations, Singing Psalms
Psalm 28:7 (NKJV)
7 The LORD is my strength and my shield; My heart trusted in Him, and I am helped; Therefore my heart greatly rejoices, And with my song I will praise Him.
In our continuing study of Jesus in the Psalms we examine Psalm 28 today. Verse 7 of Psalm 28 reminds us how central worship ought to be to our experience as the people of God. As we will see, God has answered David’s cry for help. So what does David do? He composes a song to celebrate the Lord’s goodness.
Since we have been doing a series of meditations on worship, I want to use this time to consider David’s song of praise in Psalm 28. David tells us that his heart trusted in the Lord – he believed that God would be true to His word and deliver him from trouble. And what happened? God answered him. My heart trusted in Him, and I am helped. You can imagine, therefore, how thankful David was. Any time our desires are fulfilled, it is natural to be filled with joy. Our team wins the game – we are joyful. We receive the present we had desired – we are joyful. We recover from illness – we are joyful. And David’s response was no different. Therefore my heart greatly rejoices. His heart was filled with joy because God had mercifully answered his plea.
But note that David’s internal joy manifest itself externally; his heart of joy bore fruit in song. Therefore my heart greatly rejoices, and with my song I will praise Him. God saved David; consequently, David’s heart was filled with joy; and David’s joy bore fruit in praise and song. His joyful heart opened his mouth. As John Calvin wrote, “undoubtedly, when God spreads cheerfulness through our hearts, it is to open our mouths to sing his praises” (Psalms, 472). God gives us joy so that we might worship.
So what do you do when your heart is joyful? Do you direct the joy that is in Your heart in praise to God? James, the brother of our Lord, asks us, “Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing psalms” (James 5:13b). James exhorts us: Don’t waste your joy! There are plenty of times when our heart will be weighed down and sorrowful; times for prayer and petition. But if your heart is joyful, then let it bear fruit in song – and not just in song, in songs of praise to God.
So what of you? Have you sung the praises of God? Have you spoken the wonders of God? Have you shared the rich treasures of God with others? Or have you wasted your joy?

Reminded that we often waste our joy, let us confess our sin to the Lord, seeking His forgiveness. We will have a time of silent confession, followed by the corporate confession found in your bulletin. As you are able, let us kneel together as we confess.

Preference versus Principle

October 4, 2015 in Bible - NT - James, Law and Gospel, Meditations, Sexuality, Ten Commandments
James 1:22-25 (NKJV)
22
But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. 23 For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man observing his natural face in a mirror; 24 for he observes himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was. 25 But he who looks into the perfect law of liberty and continues in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer of the work, this one will be blessed in what he does.
As we have emphasized various times, it is imperative for us as the people of God to distinguish between being men and women of preference and being men and women of principle. James urges us to be doers of the Word and not merely hearers who delude themselves. As doers of the Word our calling is to understand what God says and then practice it. As Luther so robustly emphasized, we are set right with God by faith alone but not by a faith that is alone. True faith manifests itself in good works. So let us recall the difference between a man or woman of preference and a man or woman of principle.
A man or woman of preference is one who would prefer things to be a certain way but who can’t seem, for one reason or another, to accomplish his objective. He would prefer to be sexually pure, but he just can’t seem to resist looking at pornography. She would prefer to be respectful to her husband, but he’s just so unworthy of respect. He would prefer to be honest at work, but the boss simply doesn’t pay him enough. She would prefer to live a life characterized by joy and gladness, but what her parents did to her when she was young is just too much to forgive. He would prefer to have obedient children, but the children God has given him are difficult and his wife just doesn’t do a good job with them. She would prefer to be content, but all her friends have much nicer things than she. He would prefer to make it to church each Lord’s Day, but it’s simply too hard to get the whole family ready ahead of time. She would prefer not to gossip, but she’s just so lonely she needs someone to talk with.
Contrast these scenarios with a man or woman of principle. He knows it is sinful to be sexually impure, and so he does whatever is necessary to shield himself from temptation. She knows that she must respect her husband, and so she begins honoring him with her words and actions, praying that her heart attitude will gradually change. He knows the utter necessity of honesty, and so he takes another job rather than steal from his employer. She knows that God commands her to be joyful, and so she confesses her sin of bitterness and refuses to listen to her own sob story. He knows he is responsible for the disobedience of his children, and so he asks his wife’s forgiveness for failing to train them and then sets about to do so. She knows that contentment is not an option, and so she meditates on the Word of God and rejoices that God is her portion in the land of the living. He knows that his family needs to be in worship every Lord’s Day, and so he organizes everything Saturday evening so they can make it. She knows it is a sin to gossip, and so she confides her loneliness to the Lord and looks for ways to praise others with her words.
What kind of man or woman are you? Are you a man or woman of preference or of principle? If the former heed the warning of James – But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.

Reminded that we often fail to be men and women of principle and that we make excuses for our disobedience, let us kneel and ask our Lord’s forgiveness.

God’s Compassion in Sufferings

September 7, 2015 in Bible - NT - James, Bible - OT - Ezekiel, Bible - OT - Jeremiah, Bible - OT - Job, Meditations, Providence, Sanctification, Trials
James 5:10-11 (NKJV)
10
My brethren, take the prophets, who spoke in the name of the Lord, as an example of suffering and patience. 11 Indeed we count them blessed who endure. You have heard of the perseverance of Job and seen the end intended by the Lord—that the Lord is very compassionate and merciful.
When you think of the compassion and mercy of our Lord, what comes to mind? Perhaps occasions when Jesus stoops down and heals those in pain and anguish? Perhaps occasions when God, despite Israel’s great sin, sends one deliverer after another to rescue them from the predicament that they have gotten themselves into? When we think of God’s compassion and mercy, these are the types of scenarios that come to mind.
But today, James points us to another evidence of God’s compassion and mercy, an evidence that we would be unlikely to see. What is this evidence? The evidence that James cites is the suffering endured by God’s prophets throughout the OT.
Think, for instance, of Jeremiah who is called the weeping prophet – called to bear witness to a people under judgment, his message rejected and refused, he himself thrown into a pit, left for dead, forced to witness the destruction of Jerusalem and dying in exile in Egypt. Take all of this as evidence, James tells us, of the compassion and mercy of the Lord. Think of Ezekiel, taken into exile into Babylon, told to make a fool of himself before his friends, forced to lie on his side for so many days, to play with tinker toys and army men in the city streets as a grown man, forbidden to weep when his wife died. Take all of this, James tells us, as evidence of the compassion and mercy of the Lord. Think of Job, robbed of his family, robbed of his wealth, robbed of his health, lectured by his friends. Take all of this as evidence, James tells us, of the compassion and mercy of the Lord.
Suffering and hardship as evidence of the compassion and mercy of the Lord? What is this? What is James talking about? Evidence of His power, perhaps. Evidence of His inscrutable wisdom, perhaps. Evidence of His mysteriousness, certainly. But evidence of His compassion and mercy? Yes – but in order to see it, we must also see something else. We must see what it is that God is really about in the course of our lives.
You see, if God is all about making us happy, carefree, and successful then suffering is not a sign of God’s compassion – it is a sign only of His discipline and disfavor. But sometimes, James tells us, suffering is a sign of His compassion. Therefore, God is not all about making us happy, carefree, and successful. Rather, His purpose is to make us men and women and children of faith; men and women and children who trust Him, rely upon Him, cling to Him, and obey Him no matter what the circumstance. This is what God is about. And if this is what He is about and if suffering creates us into this kind of people, then truly suffering is a sign of God’s compassion and mercy, is it not? For by suffering God trains us in patience and endurance – the very things James highlights.
So what of you? Have you considered that the sufferings through which God is making you pass right now, and that the sufferings through which He shall have you pass in the future, may be evidences of His compassion and mercy? Or have you instead looked upon them in unbelief, seeing them as evidence of how screwed up the world really is, or how much God hates you, or how little purpose there is in the world?

Reminded of our failure to look upon suffering in faith and even, at times, as a sign of God’s compassion and mercy, let us kneel and confess our sin to Him.

Responding to Obergefell

June 28, 2015 in Bible - NT - James, Bible - OT - Isaiah, Bible - OT - Psalms, Homosexuality, Law and Gospel, Meditations, Politics, Ten Commandments
James 4:12a (NKJV)
12 There is one Lawgiver, who is able to save and to destroy.
Isaiah 5:20–21 (NKJV)
20 Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; Who put darkness for light, and light for darkness; Who put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter! 21 Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes, And prudent in their own sight!
Psalm 94:20–23 (NKJV)
20 Shall the throne of iniquity, which devises evil by law, Have fellowship with You? 21 They gather together against the life of the righteous, And condemn innocent blood. 22 But the LORD has been my defense, And my God the rock of my refuge. 23 He has brought on them their own iniquity, And shall cut them off in their own wickedness; The LORD our God shall cut them off.
God is the Lord. He is Himself the embodiment of all that is good and beautiful and true. As human beings, however, we often go astray, seeking to define these things for ourselves. This inevitably results in evil, ugliness, and lies. The brutality and wickedness of the Egyptians, the Assyrians, the Romans, the Huns, the Vandals, the Mongols, the Turks, the Japanese Empire, the Nazis, the Soviets, the Saudis, and, increasingly, the United States of America are well known and grievous. Woe, says Isaiah, to those who call evil good.
This past week the Supreme Court of the United States continued to exalt itself against the Most High God and pretend that it can make laws contrary to the moral law of God. It declared that same sex unions are a constitutional right. Such a declaration is an abomination to God, an affront to our forefathers, a violation of our Constitutional Republic, and a further invitation of divine judgment. God will destroy the throne that devises wickedness by law.
CREC Response to the Obergefell Decision
In light of the Obergefell decision by the United States Supreme Court on June 26th, [our denomination] the Communion of Reformed Evangelical Churches makes the following declaration.
All the varied expressions of transgressive sexuality currently being celebrated in our culture, and now by the highest court in the land, are out of accord with God’s creational design for human sexuality, and are therefore sinful in the eyes of God. Whenever men set themselves up arrogantly to challenge God’s holy standards for sexuality, seeking to teach contrary to what God has taught us in His Word, they are vainly attempting something that is not within their authority to accomplish. We cannot bestow dignity where God has withheld it, and we cannot join together what God has determined shall remain forever separated.
Because we in the CREC submit to the full and complete authority of Scripture, we accept our responsibility to reach out in true compassion to those caught in the snare of such sexual sin. At the same time, we refuse to accept that false compassion which leaves men and women alone with their sin, and so we declare that Jesus Christ died and rose, and we plead with all such to turn to the Lord Jesus Christ so that they might be forgiven, just as we have been forgiven.
In light of this decision, the CREC calls upon the leaders of these United States, whether elected or appointed, whether legislative, judicial, or executive, whether local or national, to repent of this egregious and arrogant sin of attempting to define reality contrary to how God has defined it. In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, amen.

Reminded that the Sovereign Lord is the Lawgiver and Judge, let us confess our own sins and the sins of our nation this morning. We’ll have a time of silent confession followed by the corporate confession in your bulletin.

Homosexuality and the Christian

April 23, 2015 in Bible - NT - James, Book Reviews, Homosexuality, Sexuality, Temptation

I finished reading Homosexuality and the Christian: A Guide for Parents, Pastors, and Friends by Mark Yarhouse. Yarhouse is Professor of Psychology at Regent University. I appreciated his distinction between attraction, orientation, and identity. Attraction is a base level sexual temptation that certain folks experience more than others for members of the same sex. Orientation is attraction that seems to be persistent. Identity is when someone chooses to label themselves as homosexual. I think that these distinctions are helpful; he is articulating James 1:13-15 but in a way that is at times confusing. James would be willing to acknowledge that certain of our desires are sinful and that these desires move us to practice sin. So sin is more than mere behavior – it reaches to our desires. Yarhouse seems to want to say that our “attractions” are never sinful in themselves; he places the label of sin almost exclusively on our behavior and I’m not convinced that’s biblical. Nevertheless, it is true that being tempted is not the same as sinning – Jesus was tempted and yet without sin. So I’m not completely throwing out his distinctions because I think there is a kernel of truth there. Yarhouse is a psychologist and so speaks for that community; as a pastor I’m much more interested in what Scripture has to say and on that I find him less than fully satisfying. Sam Allberry’s Is God Anti-Gay? is more helpful and makes some of the same distinctions.

I appreciated his emphasis on reaching people who struggle with same-sex attraction – and reaching them as “our people.” I think that this is an area where I could certainly grow. At the same time, I simply don’t agree with his approach to some specific cases; for instance, if my child were to choose homosexuality, I would not “respect” that choice. I think that is the wrong framework within which to process the decision. I guess I’ll “respect” him to the extent of holding him accountable for his choice and urging the church to hold him accountable; but I won’t “respect” him in the sense of saying, “I recognize that’s a legitimate choice to make.” May it never be!

So while there were some good an helpful distinctions and the book was very charitable, there are times where I think his allegiance to psychology is more apparent than to Scripture.